May 1, 2011

Throwing Out the Favorite Thing

There's a lovely and brilliant article on drawing over on the New York Times website about drawing.  Apparently what I caught is only the last one in the series, but in it is this quote:

There’s a theory about writing that applies — that, when you reach a serious sticking point, the key to moving on successfully is to throw out the element that you had been hanging on to because it is your favorite thing. 

I had heard variations of this all through grad school, and so have developed a method to deal with this: whatever I had to cut, I carefully pasted over into a new document titled "Cut Stuff," and then saved it. Silly, but it worked. But aside from how to deal witht the loss of "your favorite thing," this article reminded me of the value of sticking with something until it evolves.  In this day of blogging, of throwing writing up on the wall of the internet to see if it sticks, I'm not sure this process of polishing and of looking critically at the elements of how a piece is constituted--whether it be drawing, writing, creating--factors into our process anymore. 

I certainly see it in my students.  They are required to turn in a preliminary rough draft of their research paper, then after conference, go home and revise it.  Most make minimal changes, such as a comma or a short phrase, or correcting a comma splice, never digging at what lies below the surface.  I worry that I have become like that some days.  Perhaps unlike James McMullan, who wrote the article and who went through multiple iterations to get at his finished painting, most of us don't labor to get at the brilliance that is certainly buried there, only waiting to be revealed and polished up.


  1. Oh how we like to hold onto what we like! Funny but I do the same thing when I'm stuck on a part and have quite by accident found out that I need to ditch things that I like...and I do the same thing with most of those "cuts" - put them in another document called "ideas for writing". Maybe they'll show up in another piece someday ... Or not. But at least they aren't really gone!

  2. Thank you for the post. I had never heard of "cut out your favorite element" technique. Fascinating. The question of blogging and writing process is intriguing.